The rise of the neo-Neandertals?

Archaeology has a very interesting piece up, Should We Clone Neanderthals?. It begins with the nitty-gritty of ancient DNA extraction & sequencing, moves to the possible avenues of cloning, and of course the bioethical conundrums that we might be placed in. I know that there is an expectation that a neo-Neandertal will be some sort of "ape-man," but we should remember that the ancient Neandertals had greater cranial capacities than modern humans. I suspect thought that the biggest issue for a neo-Neandertal might be disease; "savages" brought back to Europe invariably died from Illnesses. I really think people would object to bringing back a Neandertal, and then having to turn them into the "Bubble Caveman."

Related: Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

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Now, ethical concerns aside, why on earth would we want to clone a Neanderthal? We certainly wouldn't learn anything new about their biology nor their society.

By Ketil Tveiten (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

Of course we _would_ learn new things about their biology. Sheesh.

But more important, they could have casinos.

I think GEICO could be persuded to support this with some major funding.

Ketil Tveiten says exactly the same thing that's the first thing in my mind every time this comes up. Why?

Really, why? What's the point? All ethics aside, there's no good reason to do it other than that "well, we figure that we can. I mean jeeze people, we can clone a cow."

I suppose that Gcochran is right, we could learn new things about thier biology (if we got it right in the first place for the cloning) but isn't that still better time spent studying our own? I mean unless I've missed something, I'm still short, fat, nearsighted, nappy-haired and less than pretty, and no-one's invented a pill to make me look like tall, thin and gorgeous side of my family yet.

By Kate from Iowa (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Whale brains and Elephant brains are bigger than human brains; that doesn't make them better. (Although, perhaps with a nice, mango habanero sauce...)

By RiverboatSam (not verified) on 10 Feb 2010 #permalink

As somebody who supports this, it would take some ingenious social engineering to get support, and to override the religious and superstitious objections.

I'm thinking a good tactic would be guilt tripping, with the constant repetition that we killed them off(disregarding that this isn't 100% true). Accentuate this with some noble savage stories and narratives, showing how in tune with the environment they were, etc. Medical advancement benefit could be a nice second tune. To gain this support would require sympathetic members in the media and entertainment industry. I'm thinking documentaries, but also fictional accounts on big budget film. Please, somebody make an epic tale of the last surviving Neanderthals being pursued by humans, with a sympathetic viewpoint, guilt solicitation, and environmental themes. Honestly, its a great idea and would be a popular film.

Why do I support this cloning? Because they are the only other intelligent species we have ever seen, and yes we do bare some responsibility for their extinction. We killed(made a large contribution towards it at least) the only other civilization capable intelligence known to us.

We might learn something about _their_ biology, but there is really nothing about _biology_ that we cannot learn from existing populations. So cloning Neanderthals would only make sense if it were as easy as opening a beer.

But the point is moot because currently there NO technology that allows to clone Neanderthals. Those who say that it is in principle possible now are not telling truth. Even the statement that "artificially assembling an exact copy of the Neanderthal DNA sequence could be done easily and cheaply with current technology" is wrong (and that's by far the easiest part anyway). It's neither easy nor cheap, and it was never done before, and the closest that we've ever come to it is approximately 1% of an average human chromosome.

I'm with you keil - go for it. All this philosophising about what we can and cannot learn and time better spent. It's a flipping Neandertal for flips sake! Another intelligent species and we will have the means to clone one in the near future. You'd just immunise them as they grow like a human child. I can't see why they would not learn as well as we do. Send them off to school and Uni - like in Encino Man :)

If it is extinct and we can clone it go for it! Imagine the zoo. Maybe put them all on a big island and let them roam free. Of course you wouldn't have the Neandertals in a zoo, they could be trained up for office work. :P

I would be fascinated to learn if Neanderthals thought differently than us. Quite possibly very different set of strengths and weaknesses. The possibilities are enormous.

As for disease, I wouldn't worry too much. We are a lot cleaner and healthier than a few hundred years ago. A good set of vaccinations would prevent most of it.

The difference between neanderthals and anatomically modern humans may be rather subtle.
In "The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art, Religion and Science" Steven Mithen argues that the early hominoid mind had its intelligence separated into several distinct parts that were poorly integrated. Having a fully integrated mind, the modern human can make use of analogies and generally be very flexible, but in raw "processing power" our brains are probably not much different.

A resurrected neanderthal would probably not be so different that it could not benefit from the normal teaching techniques that exist for school pupils with special needs. Like the mildly autistic, they would be able to fit in once they had acquired the basic understanding of an adult. In fact ordinary children who are growing up in disadvantaged circumstances might be worse off.
As Stephen Jay Gould showed, it only takes a reproductive disadvantage of one per cent per generation for one adaptive system to replace another over a millennium, so the neanderthals did not have to be that bad to go extinct.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 11 Feb 2010 #permalink

Nothing like this is happening anytime soon. A realistic prediction of the future is the sciences involved will require billions more in funding. Now how do we get the US public to fork out bucks? Scientists need to study the tactics of the defence department. Them dirty low down Chinese (fill in Russians, A-rabs, it doesn't matter) are getting waaay ahead of us in the genetic engineering race! We can't let them get ahead of us! If they get the first classroom of artificial Einsteins we are doomed, DOOMED!
I know it sounds rediculous but it works. We have spent 600 Billion on nuclear submarines alone. Do they have any purpose?

By dave chamberlin (not verified) on 11 Feb 2010 #permalink

Razib have you read "N-words" by Ted Kosmatka? It's a science fiction short story that attempts to ponder the social implications of cloned Neanderthals. The basic plot is that the North Koreans release a slew of cloned Neanderthal children into the world that are physically and mentally superior to Homo Sapiens resulting in social tension as man deals with ubermensch. I'm not sure if their bigger cranial capacity will neccessarily make them smarter, but their bodies would certainly be stronger and hardier.